Senator Imee Marcos did not sign the committee report on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement, even though her brother, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., has made it one of his priority bills.
Senator Marcos’ move may be moot, since 16 senators have already signed the report, which is the number needed to ratify a treaty.
In not signing the committee report, Senator Marcos said she weighed the expected earnings from RCEP against the impact it would have on farmers and small traders.
“I am quantifying gains in electronics and garments versus agricultural damage from RCEP,” she said.
She conceded that there is a lot to gain economically from RCEP but said it would “ravage the countryside and kill our farmers.”
The senator said it is the mandate of the Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Customs to attend to their many promises to the farmers and small businessmen.
She also recalled that nothing had been realized in the promises made when the country entered the World Trade Organization agreement in 1994.
Senator Francis Escudero said he has not yet signed the committee report because he has not finished reading it and its annexes.
“I will finish it first… the ratification of treaties by the Senate is on a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ basis because we can’t amend or change it,” he said.
Because of this, he said, it must be read and taken in its entirety and holistically before any decision can be made.
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, who delivered the sponsorship speech, said he would not vouch for the bill if he did not see its benefits.
He further noted that highly sensitive agricultural products such as rice, swine meat, poultry meat, potatoes, onions, garlic, cabbage, sugar, carrots, are excluded from tariff liberalization under RCEP.
In RCEP, he said the Philippines merely gave additional preferential arrangements to 33 agricultural tariff lines specifically for Australia, New Zealand, China, and Korea, compared to the existing ASEAN +1 FTAs.
The 33 tariff lines, he said, are equivalent only to 15 products, most of which pose no threat to local products.
The 15 products are fish fillet, frozen mackerel, celery, sausages, olives, spinach, olive oil, live swine, live chicken, black pepper, palm nuts and kernels, preserved sweet corn, chili and other capers, preserved onions, cornstarch and feeds for primates.
He pointed out that the country’s trade in these products is so insignificant compared to the benefits that the country can get from the agreement.
Zubiri proposed a set of guidelines for the implementation of the agreement, identifying protective measures and capacity-building programs for the agricultural sector.